The Secret to Employee Engagement

“How do I get my team to care?” Employee engagement is the number one requested topic from my readers. If you’re struggling with employee engagement, you’re not alone. Gallup says:

“Seventy-one percent of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work, meaning they are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and are less likely to be productive.”

The disengagement increases with education. Americans with a college degree are “significantly less likely to be engaged in their jobs than are those with a high school diploma or less.” We hire for knowledge and then discourage contribution.

The Secret to Employee Engagement

I recently met with 2 new hire training classes. One was alive, actively interested, asked great questions, and shared their optimism for their careers. The other class looked at me skeptically. Didn’t say much. Yawns were involved.

My colleage looked at me after my meetings, “Wow, what a difference in engagement between those two groups.” What was the difference? The hiring demographics? The trainer? Frontline leadership? Nope.

Look Within First

It was me. I approached the first class as I normally do. I walked around the room and asked each person to introduce themselves– to tell me something about them personally. I heard of new babies, graduations, hobbies. I also asked them to share “why they will be a rock star in this position.” As they shared, I linked their ideas to key messages I wanted to reinforce. Then, I shared a bit about me both at work and at home. After all that, we started the Q &A.

It was time consuming and we were short on time. As I entered the next classroom, I was warned “you took too long with the last class, we’re behind on the agenda, and we have a plane to catch.” I skipped the one-on-one intro stuff, and moved right to Q and A. Sure I was energetic and perky, but there was no trust. It wasn’t personal. I felt scary, and the yawns began. In hindsight, I should have skipped that class.

If you can’t engage well, don’t show up.

As leaders we set the tone for employee engagement.

  • Make it personal
  • Ask questions
  • Share yourself
  • Create connection
  • Inspire confidence
  • Assure them they matter
  • Insire a compelling vision
  • Link unique skills to the vision
  • Be fully engaged yourself
  • ?
Posted in Employee Engagement & Energy and tagged , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Karin- Why do I care to comment? Why do I look forward to reading your posts? Why do I read comments of others? Why even I do not like to even find minor mistakes in your post such as “We hire for knowledge and than discourage contribution”.You meant then and not than.
    I am engaged because I enrich my knowledge. Because you show passion and care by responding to most comments individually. Because you create connection and care for others’ comments and opinion. Because a reader feels he/she is not wasting his/her time. Because nobody is scared if he/she makes a mistake will be laughed at. Because we feel the passion and opportunity to learn.

    I am engaged because of all these factors. This is my story of engagement.

    • +1 on the video; and at about 2.20, ‘neuroscience related principals supporting improved line manager engagement’, love it

      In of my first large scale org change programs many years back, we made a decision to have managers train in the new programs with their teams (and not use a special ‘manger’ version of the programs) and this was not the norm for the org. The program was very successful, where probably, given other organisational challenges, it shouldn’t have been.

      I’ve reflected on this many times to try and isolate some of the reasons for that success, and that share has helped me a little more. Thank you Jan.

  2. In my experience, developing a deeper understanding of and practice using Intrinsic Motivation: challenge, autonomy and purpose, works great for engaging others. And it requires everything you’ve shared above, plus giving people some space, encouraging their passions and not micromanaging.

  3. Karin – great story. I especially appreciate the lesson (one I have learned myself too many times!) about the importance of listening to that inner voice that says “something is not right, I need to stop and get clear about what that is.”
    best, Joan

  4. Hello Karin,

    Getting people to engage is like getting them “in gear”, making an effort to focus themselves on the task or topic. Being engaged yourself, as you point out, and giving them reasons to care, are the foundation. I’ve found that beyond that the most important thing is to provide them a challenge. Without challenge, they’re coasting, and when you coast, you don’t need to be engaged. There’s a bit more here:

    All the best,

  5. Michael, so fantastic to have your post to expand the conversation. I always welcome that. Great addition. Look forward to your sharing more with the LGL community.

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